Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Women and Modern Misogyny

So I just finished watching Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo. The original Swedish one – not the Daniel Craig version. While I enjoyed the film, I found it strange that a film that is ostensibly about fighting against misogyny lingered almost lovingly on scenes of rape and violence against the main female character, Lisbeth Salander. And even though she kicks ass, in the end, she still needs the approval of her male lover (which was confusing to me, as earlier in the movie we see her waking up naked next to a female companion) to sanction her act of self-defence and defiance. The whole thing got me thinking about modern misogyny. Why do so many men hate women?

I’m not talking about being dismissive or condescending, either. I mean hatred – the kind of red-hot rage that wants nothing better than to grind its foe into abject humiliation. When I turn on the television, I often get a sense from popular culture that men must somehow prove their collective dominance over women through – at its mildest –degrading language and acts of petty meanness to – at its most virulent – rape, violence and murder.

From American TV shows like Manswers and The Man Show where women are defined exclusively by their body parts, to Hip hop and rap music whose hatred of women has never been in doubt, to local radio shows where domestic violence is implicitly sanctioned, it is clear that there is a real anger in the air. And it is directed entirely against women.

David Brooks wrote about it in a 2003 article in the Atlantic:
...these men have not a hint of any quality that might make them attractive to progressive and mature women. Their world has been vacuumed free of empathy, sensitivity, and sophistication. It is as if millions of American men—many of them well educated—took a look at the lifestyle prescribed by modern feminism and decided, No thanks, we'd rather be pigs.

A rather satirical article by Daniel Wong on Cracked.com provided an insight as to why. In it, he listed 5 ways modern men are taught to hate women. The number one was that ultimately men feel powerless when it comes to women:
So where you see a world in which males dominate the boards of the Fortune 500, and own Congress, and sit at the head of all but a handful of the world's nations, men see themselves as utterly helpless. Because all of those powerful people only became powerful because they heard that women like power.
According to him, the main reason why men do anything is so that they can impress women and get themselves a mate:
This is why no amount of male domination will ever be enough, why no level of control or privilege or female submission will ever satisfy us. We can put you under a burqa, we can force you out of the workplace -- it won't matter. You're still all we think about, and that gives you power over us. And we resent you for it.
This helps explain to me why, as women are gaining more power (In 2010, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history) there has been a corresponding rise in explicit misogyny in popular culture.

Which makes me wonder: Do we women need men at all?

Don’t get me wrong, I love men. I think they’re sexy and fun and I believe that having a partner as a support through the process of raising children is very important – as any single mom will tell you. But to be honest, sometimes the thought of marrying a man wearies me.

Studies show that even though men and women are now working outside the home at almost equal rates, women are still doing the bulk of the housework and childcare. Studies also show that women tend to be less satisfied with their lives after they get married (whereas men tend to be more satisfied. Studies also show that men are more devastated by the loss of their partners through divorce than women).

If all this holds true – if no amount of female appeasement will stem the anger many men feel towards women, if it will only increase as women gain more power over their own lives, if it means that after marriage most women can look forward to double loads of laundry and dirty dishes – or at least fights about them – while at the same time constantly reassuring their husbands that they aren't powerless because they may have less successful careers – then why are we women even dancing this dance?

A recent experience at a writing workshop gave me a clue. The women there were united in their opinion that the men who hold the power in society treated women badly. They traded horrific stories of men who abandoned, humiliated, beat and even killed their wives – all because they could. Yet, when it came down to crafting stories in which the rules could be changed to make men and women’s positions more equitable, these women would consistently side with maintaining the rules of the patriarchy. Anything else wouldn’t be “realistic,” they argued, “This was the way it was.”

Sometimes it felt as if I was listening to people who were in pain because they were on fire – but who refused any attempt to put out the flames that consumed them. I suppose that the only way to maintain any system of subjugation is if, on some level, you can get the oppressed to agree to remain in chains.  

Because the truth is, it’s possible to raise a perfectly healthy child without a man in your life and more women are opting to do so. It is possible for a woman to live a fulfilling and happy life without ever getting married at all – and many are already doing so. And it is possible to fulfil one’s need for companionship through a supportive network of caring women – rather than pinning all of one’s hopes and needs on a single individual (which, let’s face it, is never a good idea). It is possible for women to live without men, and frankly, if the current level of society's misogyny continues, I don't see why one day we won't decide to just do so.


  1. A recent experience at a writing workshop gave me a clue. The women there were united in their opinion that the men who hold the power in society treated women badly. They traded horrific stories of men who abandoned, humiliated, beat and even killed their wives – all because they could. Yet, when it came down to crafting stories in which the rules could be changed to make men and women’s positions more equitable, these women would consistently side with maintaining the rules of the patriarchy. Anything else wouldn’t be “realistic,” they argued, “This was the way it was.”

    This stood out to me. I'm reminded of bell hook's essay, "Understanding Patriarchy". I think women contribute to the patriarchal system not only by viewing any thing else as unrealistic but also by raising sons and daughters in the mould that teaches them to hate women. So even though women choose to remain single and raise children on their own, depending on how they raise their children, they may just be continuing and sustaining the patriarchy and its hate of women.

  2. You have a really good point there. I would be easy to continue to perpetuate patriarchal values even if you were a a single mother. But I think a woman who has chosen to forgo marriage to try to make a family on her own would be a little less susceptible to male domination than one who feels utterly dependent on a man. That is not to say that all single mothers are feminists - certainly not - but it's probably harder to tell a woman what to do if she's paying her own bills. And I think that children are sensitive to that.

  3. A Dark Matter, indeed. I think the evolution on this is a very slow, frustrating, infuriating process. But I do see progress. I don't think that there's inherent misogyny in every marriage, just as I think that sometimes we women are our own worst enemies. Great topic to think about, though. Thanks, as always, for your truth.

  4. Like Nrrdgrrl noted, and as I've found myself, individual marriages are not the problem but the individuals themselves, and in most cases women. Think stockholms syndrome. Some women are in love with the patriarchal system, that is the only identity they know and which gives structure to their life. And that is what they will pass on to their children, married or not.

    1. A great quote from Ashley Judd: "Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both men and women participate."

    2. I read AJ's post on the Baily Beast yesterday and was just about to come link you up to it. Seemed like I was reading my mind when I read it. That conversation may never end I'm afraid.

  5. While I am generally for all you write C, this took me aback. While reading I kept looking for signs of locality, like is this about your country? The world? or what? But it seemed that your language is about ALL men, which honestly hurt, I don't feel like I've ever spoken or acted in the way you talk about above, and I've never condoned it. Are you saying that all men everywhere should be worked out of the world?

  6. @Brendan, I'll admit the post does sound like it's about all men everywhere. It's definitely not. There are plenty of men who don't hate women - or feel that they are superior to them - the problem is that patriarchal systems dominate all over the world and so a lot of men - not just in Nigeria (which is a heavily patriarchal society) buy into these ideas.

    I just want women to re-examine going into partnerships that are inherently unequal and demand more equitable relationships with men. And if they can't get those equitable partnerships, they should be willing to go it alone. I just don't want women to settle, otherwise things will never change.

  7. Hmmm. Some food for thought. I just picked up the English language translation of Stieg Larsson's novel. I'll be paying close attention

  8. I completely agree with what you've written here and have formed the same opinion over the past few years.

    I think that the powerlessness men feel is not really about competition to find a mate - it's competition to find a woman. I think that in patriarchy, and maybe in male psychology in general, the female is mother, lover, AND daughter. If you look at the typical gender relations worldwide you see that women are expected to fulfill this blurred concept to the men in their lives. No wonder women are confused and exhausted by it: they keep house for their husbands but should be sexy and look up to him all at the same time.

    I think that the real core of the issue is that women really don't need men the way that men need women. Biologically, one man can provide offspring for a hundred women, and without patriarchy, women can easily do the rest. Within patriarchy, women can do the rest, but it's made very difficult for them. The whole system, it seems to me, is designed to keep men from being superfluous.

    Overturning patriarchy will require that people are valued as people and that gender perceptions are radically diminished - both by men and by women.

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